By DOUG NURSE / www.ajc.com
Friday, August 29, 2008
By the end of June, with three months remaining in its fiscal year, the city of Milton had already overspent its annual legal budget.
The city’s legal bills reached $190,000 by the end of June. The budget for the year is $180,000. Officials anticipate legal expenses could reach $300,000 by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.
The city’s law firm, Jarrard and Davis from Cumming, bills the city $150 an hour.
“We dealt with more issues on the legal side than we anticipated,” said Mayor Joe Lockwood. “You can’t anticipate everything. The majority of those issues were protecting the city and the citizens.”
Among the issues that have surfaced in the past year are the city’s policy on sewer, a controversial zoning of a greenhouse, litigation to keep billboards out of Milton, and modifications of the city’s ethics ordinance.
Lockwood said that requests by the city council for legal research also contributed to the cost of the attorneys. Since February, the city has spent between $22,000 to $38,000 a month. Before that, bills hovered around $10,000.
“I assume what happened is, Milton has a lot of significant and substantive legal issues that needed more attention than they were getting,” said City Attorney Ken Jarrard. “The legal store is being minded better.”
Jarrard said he was comfortable with the quality of the service the firm provides the city.
“At the end of the day, we have to defend the value of the service we provide,” Jarrard said. “The city has options and we can work with them on those. They could choose to budget more or use our services less.”
The city has received more revenue from taxes and fees than expected, and should be able to cover the overage, said Stacey Inglis, city finance director.